By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Demonstrators crowded outside a hearing yesterday, accusing the overseer of six tribal Head Start programs of discrimination.

Sheryl Steinruck, head teacher at the Howonquet Head Start program in Smith River, was fired last week, angering many parents and co-workers who say she was fired because of a personal vendetta.

Karen Wapples, education coordinator for the California Rural Indian Health Board fired Steinruck last week via a fax machine, offering no explanation for the termination, Steinruck said.

Yes, there is a vendetta. Its that Sheryl is a strong, educated Native American woman and Karen is threatened by her, said Don Steinruck, Sheryl Steinrucks husband and the President of the Del Norte County Teachers Association.

Wapples is being accused of systematically replacing Native American teachers and administrators with non-natives throughout the six Head Start programs she coordinates.

Im just one of many. What I found out through research is that Im not the first. Two years ago, there was nearly 100 percent Native American teachers, now its more like 25 percent, Sheryl Steinruck said.

Yesterdays hearing was conducted by Maxine Lewis Raymond, Californias Director of Human Resources Development to determine whether Wapples violated the boards standards and practices by firing Steinruck.

One demonstrator, Mavra Scott, who is a volunteer at Howonquet Head Start, said Steinruck is a highly respected member of the Native American Community.

She is a teacher that stresses cultural awareness - an active participant in ceremonies. I think Karen is against that, Scott said.

Wapples was an hour and a half late to the hearing and entered the building through a back door while demonstrators at the front of the building were questioned by police. Wapples was unavailable for comment.

Steinruck said she has carefully documented a pattern of discrimination against her by Wapples and said she feels confident justice will prevail.